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Why lawns suck

As my grass begins to look more like a plant than a carpet, I wonder again why it is that we feel a societal need to have -- and mow -- lawns.

Grass is a widespread natural plant, found on a large proportion of the world's surface. It is the primary food source for many grazing animals, from elephants to rabbits. Over the last few centuries, it has evolved into a cosmetic accompaniment to most homes in the West.

It is often planted in arid parts of North America where grass is not a native plant. It has difficulty surviving and requires frequent watering to maintain its healthy green appearance. In some areas, this usage makes up more than half the total residential water usage. The more scarce the potable water supply, the more of it is used to water the lawn.

During hot, dry seasons, and in the winter months, grass goes to a dormant, brown state. There is nothing wrong with the grass in this condition, but many people believe it is unsightly and unhealthy. They therefore water it until it is green again.

With enough water, grass grows. With more water and the strong sunlight associated with dry areas, it grows faster. Then it needs to be cut. Many people use lawn mowers that bag the cut ends of the grass. These are then thrown out, clogging up landfills and taking nutrients out of the soil. With the nutrients gone, lawn owners call chemical companies to fertilise their now unhealthy, fast growing, water-consuming lawns.

It doesn't make any sense to me. In fact, the more I think about lawns, the less logical they are, at least in their current implementation.

In a sane, rational world, we would still have lawns, but our lawns would be diverse, containing broad-leaf plants as well as grasses and clovers. We would not cut them, but we would, instead, have animals grazing our lawns, keeping them short and healthy. A couple of lambs could keep the lawns of a few houses short all summer long, for example.

The animals used to keep the grass short can feed off of the lawn while keeping it short and fertilised all summer long. In the winter, they can feed the owner of the lawn and their family. In the spring, the process can start over with a new grazing dinner in waiting.

This, to me, would be a rational use of lawns.

Posted at 12:05 on July 25, 2006

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